Happy Halloween from everyone at China Icons! To mark the occasion, we thought we’d share some of China’s spookiest stories, past and present. Read on, if you dare…
Ever seen The Ring or The Grudge? Did you know these films were inspired by one of the most famous ghost stories from China, known as the Tale of Painted Skin? The tale originates from the Qing dynasty and tells the story of a lost young woman roaming the streets (who, of course, later turns out to be a vengeful female spirit) who is discovered by a scholar. He of course offers her a place to stay. Despite warnings from a Taoist monk that he has been bewitched by the woman, the scholar continues to allow her to stay, leading to particularly grim consequences for his family. Click here if you fancy a read of the short story (Definitely one to read with the lights on).
Hungry Ghosts are also extremely common in Chinese culture and Buddhist tradition. Hungry Ghosts are the spirits of people who were greedy or had sinned in their previous lives and have bulging stomachs and tiny mouths. They appear during ‘Ghost Month’ in China and some Chinese families will burn ‘Hell Money’ and provide offerings of food and drink in order to ward off trouble from coming to their households.
We all know about China’s Forbidden City, but did you know it’s also said to be haunted by a variety of ghosts dating back to the Ming dynasty in the 15th century? Murders committed by guards and imperial concubines were common at the time, so it’s unsurprising that stories and rumours have circulated for years. Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty also committed suicide during an uprising, only after forcing his wife to commit suicide as well as going on a murderous rampage against other family members.
Their ghosts still allegedly roam the Forbidden City, so it’s perfect for a spooky Halloween ghost walk if you happen to be in Beijing and believe in this sort of thing. Don’t panic, you can only really visit the Forbidden City in the day with thousands of other tourists – I doubt any ghosts would even want to make an appearance it’s so busy!
Don’t worry, there are a few stories of kind and friendly ghosts in Chinese culture as well! The legend of the Chinese ghost hunter, Zhong Kui, tells the tale of a scholar who killed himself after being stripped of his title by the emperor. When he returned from the dead, he decided to subdue evil spirits rather than join them. Many Chinese people have Zhong Kui’s picture hung up in their homes and businesses as a protector!
So there you have it. We hope for your sake this wasn’t your bedtime reading…
Are there any Chinese ghost stories you’d like to share that we haven’t mentioned here? We’d love to hear them!
Imagine eerie, deserted streets, flecked with abandoned coins and burnt money, grand offerings of fruit and hot food, and sticks upon sticks of slowly burning incense, left to stand solitarily in the moonlight.
This is not a scene from a horror film or a nightmare, but something you can see in many towns and villages across China during the seventh lunar month, known as Ghost Month; particularly on the fifteenth day, when the Ghost Festival takes place. This year it falls on August 17th.
Around this time, the Chinese have traditionally believed that the gates of the underworld are flung open and lost spirits are free to roam the Earth amongst the living. Though most Chinese people today probably don’t lay much store by these ancient beliefs, there are some interesting taboos that some people still observe during Ghost Month.
The aim of all these Ghost Festival dos and don’ts is to please the dead in order to ensure they don’t bring misfortune on the Chinese people; food is offered to spirits that might be wandering around the streets, incense is burnt as a token of prosperity and lighted paper lanterns are floated across lakes to guide the ghosts back to the underworld. Make shift paper money is also burnt, as it is believed that ghosts will be able to use this as currency when they return to the underworld.
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